Future Development Reads: Dispatch from the United Nations General Assembly

Last week saw a major gathering of government, corporate, and civil society leaders in New York City to participate in events around the United Nations General Assembly. 

The meeting was noteworthy on two counts. First, it has morphed from a government-dominated meeting into a multi-stakeholder gathering. The World Economic Forum and the Bloomberg Global Business Forum 2017 brought corporate executives into dialogues on sustainability at a level and intensity not seen before. The consensus on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seems unshaken, and momentum to build coalitions involving non-governmental partners is mounting.

The second point, however, is more somber. For all the rhetoric and celebrity participation (actors, rappers, supermodels, and activists were all well represented), the news on implementation was not encouraging.

The perennially upbeat message from Bill and Melinda Gates, in a beautifully produced Goalkeepers report-cum-data-visualization, started with an acknowledgement that “this report comes out at a time when there is more doubt than usual about the world’s commitment to development.” It goes on to document how far the world is off-track on various SDGs, as well as helpfully documenting where there is insufficient data.

Reports on specific sectors are no more encouraging.

The World Bank released its World Development Report, focused on education with a dire warning about the learning crisis in poor countries. Check out:

The Food and Agriculture Organization, jointly with a number of other U.N. organizations (hooray for collaboration among multilaterals), issued its State of Food and Nutrition Security in the World, 2017 report, showing the number of hungry people actually rising. The overview is available here.

The Lancet takes this one step further and has published a map with disaggregated mortality data across Africa. Its interpretation of the data: “In the absence of unprecedented political commitment, financial support, and medical advances, the viability of SDG 3.2 achievement in Africa is precarious at best.”

In each case, the bad news is that progress is too slow. The silver lining, perhaps, is that we know this with ever-greater clarity. Maybe that will be a spur to action.